Daily Archives: October 29, 2014

I’m not on drugs… I’m having a manic episode

Eighteen years ago, my mum took me to our local doctor, concerned about my sudden strange behaviour since finishing my final high school exams.  Taking one look at me, his first reaction was to tell Mum that I was obviously under the influence of drugs.

When she told him she didn’t think I would take drugs (which I never have) – he made a sarcastic remark about parents like her having “no idea at all.”

Three days later, after ordering brain scans, CAT scans and a battery of other medical tests, the local hospital concluded I was having my first acute manic  episode.

This incident sprung to mind today as I read an article in the Shepparton News about HeadSpace – Australia’s youth mental health foundation – running courses in country Victoria next month to help parents identify and intervene early with the mental health needs of their children.

As Headspace says to parents and carers on their website: “Recognising signs is the first step toward getting [your children] help.”

I couldn’t agree more.

If it wasn’t for my parents and then boyfriend (now my loving husband!) – my local GP may have dismissed the signs of my first manic episode as a teenager experimenting with drugs.  It was my parents who told him of my family history of Bipolar Disorder and the incredible stress I’d been under the weeks prior during Year 12 exams.

As parents, we are our children’s advocates:  if they start wheezing, we take them to the Doctor.  If they are struggling at school, we book a time to speak to their teacher.  So why wouldn’t we be on the lookout for signs that they are struggling with depression, anxiety or displaying other out of character behaviours.

Nobody knows our children better than us.  And we need to be aware of the symptoms of mental illness and take them seriously.

Parents in Shepparton know this better than most.  Despite the idyllic setting, this regional centre has some of the highest rates of youth suicide in Victoria.  They have learnt that mental illness is the hidden killer.

Mariska xx

Check out Headspace’s excellent mental health resources for parents and youth at www.headspace.org.au



Not an awful day, mood wise. Fairly holding steady in the middle.

Anxiety wasn’t too bad. UNTIL I left the house. Then my mind started whipping up a hurricane and typhoon of panic inducing thoughts.
The teacher hasn’t responded to my email. OMG, they’re discussing how to transfer my kid because they don’t want to deal with me! Did I send it to the wrong email? Are they passing it around laughing? Have I been reported to the principal for daring to question a teacher’s commitment to my kid’s education?
OMFG, they asked her how often I bathe her. They’re getting ready to call DSF because she had scalp flakes in her hair!!!!

It’s difficult to function in the here and now when you’re mind is a cyclone mixed with a tornado of paranoid anxiety triggers.
And it’s so bad, and I hate confrontation so much (even though I’ve never really learned when to keep my mouth shut diplomatically), there’s a part of me almost relieved the school/teacher has made no contact. Because I panic when it comes to confrontation. Panic sets off the physical symptoms which set off the fight or flight response…And my mouth acts independently from my brain with responses not based on logic but on terror induced defensiveness.
It’s been a problem for as long as I can remember. And for every one time I’m able to bite my own tongue…There are nine times I’ve spazzed out and reacted out of panic rather than the way I actually feel. This makes me come off as a rather unreasonable bitch or plain batshit crazy.
I hate it and yet…No matter how much I attempt to retrain my brain, the panic disorder does not give a fuck. People say mind over matter…Well, in the case of bipolar, it’s your mind sending out the wrong signals so you never stand a chance of working from a place of logic to truly “overcome” it.

I am calmer now that I am in my safe space and the evening promises to be dull and calm. I can deal with that. But the paranoia tugs at the back of my mind, sending my heart racing and my entire body dissolving into some much physical gelatin.
There is no such thing as overreacting when it comes to intrusions into your parenting abilities. The system is set up to blame, accuse, and assume first, then investigate and by then, it’s too late. I’ve known this to happen to otherwise excellent parents (including R) and once you’re entangled in the system…The noose is around your neck for life.
I must sound dramatic and pathetic.
There simply is no room for “keep calm and carry on” when it comes to my daughter. I am a good mom. But society has these ridiculous standards where failing to sign a baby up for gymboree is some sort of neglect. I would think myself nutty if I hadn’t witnessed this happening to others with my own eyes.
Yet I’ve known kids living in horrid conditions with guns and drugs floating about and abusive adults…But nothing was ever done.
Once you’ve seen how the system fails time after time…It taints your mind. There is no longer the self argument, “I’m being silly, no one is going to take my kid away because I’ve done nothing wrong…”
People get convicted of murder even when they’re innocent. Society cares fuck all about evidence. Rumor’s good enough for the majority.
You could argue, “But, Becca is there, she’s a witness to how well you take care of your kid.”
Yeah…I had an apartment once, and the landlord felt my clutter made me a bad housekeeper so he forced me to get an independent living advisor to do monthly inspections. The lady always said the place was tidy and yes, cluttered, but I managed what little space I had well.
Next thing I know, in spite of their reports to the landlord and in spite of paying rent on time for five years…he evicted me. His standards were that high that not even the advisor’s word and approval overrode his views.

I suppose that’s where all my terror of losing my kid comes in. Because everyone has different standards. There are some people who have one speck of dust and consider it unfit living conditions. I can’t live up to that.I don’t even believe in it, I think it’s asinine. But it’s people like that who will judge me and hold me to their personal standards rather than, “Place is tidy, there’s food in the fridge, the child is bathed, clothed and happy, all is well.”
Because it happened to R. I was there. I saw it.

So maybe my panic and level of paranoia are not proportionate to what others consider realism…I can’t unsee what I have seen. I cannot help but be terrified when intrusive personal questions are being asked of my child. I could see if she smelled or had dirt on her or smelly clothes…The question was out of context and rude and my fucked up head and lousy experiences are making spaz the fuck out…
It is what it is.
I sometimes wonder if my anxiety and panic are on some psychotic level that’s uncommon so the doctors think I am dramatizing.
It’s no drama. It’s no joke.
There are times I’ve felt less panic over a car wreck or emergency surgery than when my brain throws its random paranoiapalooza shows.

Doctor says I fixate on the bad things and live on the assumption if it happened once, it will happen again therefore I am causing myself the problems.
I say, if you see more bad things than good, it warps your mind and proves you’re right to be concerned.
And believe me, short of ect and exorcism I have tried everything (light therapy, aromatherapy, chakra therapy, hypnosis) to be rid of the anxiety disorder.
All it did was leave me feeling like more of a loser because none of it worked for me.

Oh, well. I’m a hot mess with a bucket of crazy thrown in.
Once upon a time, it was considered eccentric or quirky.
Now it’s a personality disorder.

And it’s all my own fault, that’s been made abundantly clear by so many…

They can go to hell.
I hope the devil jabs them with his pitchfork at random intervals so they spend all their time going “what the fuck”.
Because that’s what mental illness is like.
You keep getting poked but you’re never answered on why.

Bicycle Thieves (#2)

This is an updated version of an edition that first appeared in 2011

What more dispiriting experience is there for a cyclist than discovering that their bike has been nicked?  This has happened to me twice.  The first time it was the first bicycle I owned as an adult.  I had been given it by a friend who lived in London who had been put off riding in the capital after a friend of his was knocked off his bike. The second time it happened was last Friday, which is what prompted me to reblog  this edition.

The first time it happened it was stolen from right outside where I  lived back then.  I used to chain it to the railings at the front of my house.  The chain I used was no match for a handy pair of bolt cutters, apparently.  That bicycle had particular meaning for me. Apart from being my first bicycle, it also accompanied me in what I was going through at that time.  It was the bike I owned when I was first diagnosed with depression.  I never rode very far on it. Before I recognised that I was depressed I used to get up early and cycle down to the beach before going to work in London. I would cycle along the seafront watched by homeless people who  sleep on the benches, and in shelters that dot the beach front, as they were waking up.

I was signed off sick for 3 years starting in the summer of 2002. It was around that time that I put my bicycle  out of sight in the shed at the bttom of the garden.  It stayed there for a year, while I hibernated in bed, barely able to function. I remember the first time I took it out  and tottered around the block on it, riding on the pavement, before putting it back in the shed once more and retreating inside to recover…for months.

The day after that bicycle was stolen my wife drove to work and came home with  a new bicycle for me.  I clearly remember coming out of the house and crossing the road to where her car was parked with the new bicycle strapped to the bike rack.  It felt like a symbol of hope that I could find my way back to who I was, and what I wanted to become; someone had faith in me that I could  find my way back, and recognised what I needed to do so. When I told her what had happened last Friday she immediately reminded me that I had turned down her offer of a new bicycle for my birthday last July, saying that I was happy with my bicycle and that I had a strong emotional attachment to it. I have been to the bike shop that I have been visiting since 2000 and I have my eye on the bike I want. Like the the first bike I had that was stolen, this bike had a very strong emotional connection for me. I wrote about it in a previous post which you can read here:


Back in the autumn of 2010 I was riding that bicycle when I took a tumble taking a corner too fast and before my left knee had hit the tarmac I knew that something was seriously wrong. Not long after that I was diagnosed with Bi Polar Disorder (I much prefer the old moniker Manic Depression, mind you.)

I took the title of this instalment of my blog from the title of the Italian film of 1948 ‘Ladri di Biciclette’.  The film revolves around the main protagonist’s search for his stolen bicycle which his wife had pawned their bedsheets so that he could redeem it from the pawn broker and  secure a job putting up posters around the city. Although the film ends on a despairing note, as he tries unsuccessfully to steal a bicycle, the film resonates with me because of the idea that the bicycle offers him hope of a better life.  For me, it highlights the sacrifices, and the lengths that we need to go to attain that goal.

Earlier that same year Gino Bartali won the Tour de France for the second time (he also won the King of the Mountains jersey that year).  It was the Italian’s second win after a gap of ten years.  The length of time between those victories also carries a message of hope for me.  In the 1948 race Bartali was on the point of giving up, but inspired by a phone call from the Italian prime minister that a victory would reunite a country on the brink of civil unrest, he rode on to victory.

It is possible to return to our best selves and reach our potential – even after a long gap, even when we feel like giving up on life, it is possible to succeed in whatever we choose to do.

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
By John Masefield (1878-1967)
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)

Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I

A couple of months ago I received a message from a reporter from Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s office. There was a planned expansion on bipolar disorder for his website “Health Matters with Dr. Sanjay Gupta,” and I was asked to be interviewed. In case you don’t know of him, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is the multiple Emmy®-award […]

The post Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I appeared first on Insights From A Bipolar Bear.

Rock-Bottom Blues

***TRIGGER WARNING*** Bad, bad thoughts ahead.

This is it—I have found it—I am in Hell. Or at least my version of it, anyway. Things have fallen through at my son’s so Will and I can’t move in with him, and as of now we have nowhere to go.

Nowhere to go.

To say I am terrified would be the understatement of the year. It’s a nightmare knowing that we will literally be homeless in another couple of weeks unless some miracle occurs and we find someplace to hang our hats, at least for a while. I never believed that life could come to this. I never thought it would come to this. But with every box that gets packed, every sentimental piece I wrap in newspaper and pray I will get to use again, the reality sinks in further and it hits me yet again: this is all happening because of me. Because of my disease. Because I couldn’t cope with my old life anymore.

I’ve been told that I can’t move forward if I don’t learn to forgive myself for the things I can’t help. But how does one move forward when what lies ahead is even more frightening than the present reality? I don’t want to be here for this, let alone the future if all I can expect is more of the same (or worse). Don’t get me wrong—I’m not planning to do anything stupid—but these thoughts are coming at me like seagulls dive-bombing a picnic table and I can’t push them away entirely. I think about Will and how it might be easier for him to find housing if he were alone—nobody would let an older man with cancer live in a car. Maybe one of the kids would take him in if it was just him and not the two of us. He’s pretty low-maintenance, and he’s helpful too.

But I also know that he’d never be the same if I were to make for the exit, and the kids would just be pissed at me. I don’t want them to be pissed at me. And I lack the guts to take being thought of as a coward, even though I personally don’t see suicide as a cowardly act. I’m only talking about it because it’s the way my brain is wired—I’ve NEVER gone through a serious life crisis without thinking of it at least once—and this is my most spectacular failure in my entire fifty-five years on this planet. But I’m going to stick around because a) I have an insane need to see just how many more indignities I can handle, b) that could be useful knowledge, and c) I haven’t hit rock bottom quite yet. That will probably come on that first night in the car or at the shelter.

In the meantime, it looks like everything is a go for the cats to be taken to their new home on Saturday. I’m still amazed at that miracle, and of course I’m still praying that God will see fit to squeeze out one more for Will and me. Trouble is, I can barely stand to spend time with them now…..it hurts too much to pet them and hear them purr, knowing they’ll be gone in just a few days. They’ll be OK, even though they won’t understand what’s happening, and they are NOT going to be happy about the four-hour drive, in carriers no less. I wonder if we’ll ever have cats again; part of me believes I don’t deserve them. But then, part of me stubbornly clings to the certainty that all of this is my fault, no matter how many people tell me otherwise.

So, how DO I move forward? I’m sorry as hell about the past, I fear the future, and the present isn’t much of a picnic either. How do I stop blaming myself when it all leads right back to me?


Big Ass Hole

that’s not like someone is a big asshole, not a typo. There is a big ass hole dug in the front of our new yard and fence posts in the back, which means we wont have to pay for about 500 dollars worth of a 7k-8k we’ll have to pay for a fence. Surrounding 3/4 of an acre aint cheap.

I’d love to know what the hole in the front yard is there for. We couldnt get any answers and last night having had the concrete put down, I am just looking forward to the framing to go up.

I woke up sad today, dunno why and I’ve been a little lax on the exercising, I am just not feeling very motivated. Also buying 24 of those bars was a mistake, I ate 3 of them today. I did buy them before deciding to diet but having them here makes it so hard. I also dont want to share them with anyone. I’m a little piggy *oink, oink*

Not happy with myself today at all.

My Magic Wand

When I was in active Pediatrics practice, anxious parents used to ask me all the time, “When will this get better?  Will it get worse?  Can you make it go away?”  This, usually in reference to some unpleasant chronic condition like asthma or psoriasis.  My answer to them was always the same:

My Magic Wand is in the shop with my Crystal Ball.”

This usually provoked a crestfallen look.  But I do not lie, I do not dissemble.  I tell the truth even when it is not what anyone wants to hear:

“Your child has leukemia.”

“Your child has meningitis (because you staunchly refused to give him the vaccination against that--but I would never say that.  They will either figure it out or not, but I will not increase the suffering of an already stricken parent.)”

“Although we did everything in our power, we were not able to save your child.”  That was the worst, the one I dreaded the most.  Where there is life, there is hope, is a true statement.  There are conditions which are dangerous, which are usually fatal, but where there is life, there is hope.

But the outcome, in the end, is not in my hands and I cannot foresee the future: my magic wand is in the shop with my crystal ball.

And now that I am the patient, I juggle these things.  Some things about my diseases can be predicted, and some can’t.  I think sometimes the most distressing part of having a disease is the uncertainty of how it will turn out.

Take Ebola, for instance.  The media has whipped the fear-and-paranoia quotient to the moon.  People are starting to fear each other on the streets.  There is talk of people wearing masks in public places, even though it has been proven that in order to pass the virus via the respiratory route, like a sneeze or a cough, someone would have to be so sick that they would be on life support anyway, not likely to be in the subway station or the mall.

Will the virus take hold in other nations, or will it peter out the way Bird Flu did, the way the previous Ebola outbreak did?

Sorry folks, my magic wand is in the shop with my crystal ball.

I am fortunate to live in two countries where one is relatively free to chose one’s own doctors, for many things, anyway, if one’s health plan permits.  If I don’t like my doctor, I simply fire them and get another one.

Very fortunately, my shrink in America, whom I have been in a cordial therapeutic relationship with on and off since 2001, is a funny, pragmatic man, who is just as likely to say “I don’t know” as he is to say “Hello, how are you?”  –which he says in a jovial yet businesslike manner, because he REALLY wants to know how you are.

Thirty minutes later I leave his office both confident and perplexed, which is the way he means for me to feel.  I am not sure our plan of treatment will work.  Neither is he.  His magic wand is in the shop with his crystal ball.

He must be in cahoots with my therapist, whose office is just the other side of his wall.  I give her a hard time, saying, “I could do your job right now.  Right now!  All I would have to do is rotate the following exclamations:  “Really?  No!  You HAVE to be kidding. [silence]”  She did not quite find that funny, but I did and that’s what’s important, especially if your DSM diagnosis was changed, without your permission, from Asperger Syndrome to Autistic Spectrum Disorder NOS.

But in reality she is a really good therapist, because she does indeed give me both space and support, and cognitive feedback, which I truly appreciate.

She DOES have a magic wand in her office, but it’s one of those fake ones, you know what I mean, with some kind of thick fluid and glitter than flutters down through it when you upend it.  But crystal ball, no, she leaves that part up to me.

My family doc in Israel is a one-of-a-kind gem.  He listens to me; he is open-minded yet erudite, and he most certainly owns neither magic wand nor crystal ball, and if he did he would have to lock them away from his kids.

Now.  I want you to know that luck played very little part in my finding my Medical Knights and Ladies.  I fired many a therapist, and several psychiatrists, before I happened upon the ones I have.

The position of Primary Care Physician in America is still open.

My psychiatrist in Israel, bless his heart, had a severe psychotic episode and had to be hospitalized, and I don’t think he’s practicing anymore.  I hope not.

Far be it from me to be anti a mentally ill psychiatrist; my shrink here has Major Depressive Disorder, and he knows how it hurts.

But my Israeli shrink started showing signs of paranoid psychosis while I was in his office, which was in a basement room with no windows and you had to be buzzed both in AND out.  Oh dear.  Nothing short of Magic Wand was going to help him, poor man.  He was kind enough to renew my prescriptions for three months, giving me time to find out there wasn’t anyone else on my health plan who speaks English.

All of this is to say:  We just don’t know.  We don’t know what will happen to us in the next moment, let alone days, weeks, months, or years.

I was in a traffic jam going up a steep hill on a two-lane road once.  When traffic finally got moving it became clear that a huge tree, its roots sodden with the torrential Monsoon rains, had fallen atop a Jeep, crushing both it and its occupant.  She died instantly.

After watching my father wither slowly away over years, months, weeks, days, and moments, it was hammered home to me: I don’t have a crystal ball, and I certainly don’t have a magic wand.  But I want that lady’s tree-falling-on-vehicle sudden death.  I don’t want to fade slowly into more and more and more pain, up till the very last breath.  If only I could have that crystal ball, to see my death, and that magic wand to change it, if it isn’t one I can live with.